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Supported by William Penn Foundation, Drexel, Penn and Villanova Join Forces to Help Philadelphia Communities Address Water Management Effects of Climate Change

April 28, 2023

In hopes of helping communities throughout the city that are facing water management problems due to the effects of climate change, Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University are forming a community-focused research network with support from the William Penn Foundation. The Academic Network to Support Urban Water Resilience will direct water management research centers at each of the schools in service of community-based organizations that are developing strategies to bolster their climate resilience.

“Philadelphia’s vulnerability to the extreme effects of climate change has become evident in recent years,” said Franco Montalto, PhD, a professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering who is a leader of the Network. “Tropical Storm Isaias inundated the Eastwick neighborhood in 2020; Hurricane Ida in 2021 flooded several neighborhoods across the city, damaged infrastructure and completely submerged the Vine Street Expressway. It’s incumbent upon the water management research community at our city’s leading universities to work with residents to address these challenges and develop solutions specific to their communities.”

Supported by a $200,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation and led by Drexel’s Environmental Collaboratory, the Network includes Drexel College of Engineering’s Sustainable Water Resource Engineering LaboratoryThe Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova College of Engineering’s Center for Resilient Water Systems. The Network will solicit project proposals from community groups seeking support and guidance in gathering data, monitoring conditions or developing resilience plans.

Working closely with leadership from the community, Network members will turn the proposals into research modules that researchers and students at each of the universities will approach as capstone projects during the term or academic year. Each research team will work at the direction of community leaders to ensure the project meets benchmarks and delivers on goals that meet the community’s needs.

“We envision these projects manifesting themselves, on the academic side, as service-learning and problem-based learning courses, thesis, doctoral and post-doctoral research projects and design studio courses,” Montalto said. “The deliverables for the community groups will take the form of anything from oral presentations, workshops, meetings, written reports, surveys, interviews, websites and technical analysis. For example, if a community group is applying for a grant and it requires research data about the impact of climate change, they could propose this research to the Network as a project.”

The efforts will also be guided by representatives from the Philadelphia Water Department, the City of Philadelphia Office of Sustainability and the Resilient Communities Stormwater Initiative, which will assist the academic team in soliciting projects and partners, setting goals, keeping informed of related ongoing work and reviewing deliverables.

Projects must focus on water management changes facing the community — water quality improvement, land use, tree canopy/vegetation cover, water infrastructure and flood management, for example — and can range in scope and timeline, lasting from 10 weeks to more than a year, with any number of deliverables.

“Forging the alliances and partnerships necessary to address our environmental crisis requires that practitioners meet residents where they are, both on the issues and out in the community,” said Stuart Clarke, program director of Watershed Protection for the William Penn Foundation. “Community members can be a powerful force for urban water resilience when projects are connected to immediate community concerns.”

The group is in the process of selecting its first round of projects, which will be announced in the spring. For more information about the Academic Network to Support Urban Water Resilience or to propose a project, visit: